Sunday, 4 October 2020

Queen - Is This The World We Created? (1984-1991)



The Works (1984)


Radio Ga Ga/Tear It Up/It's A Hard Life/Man On The Prowl/Machines (Or Back To Humans)/I Want To Break Free/Keep Passing The Open Windows/Hammer To Fall/Is This The World We Created 

"Everybody ran into their frocks" - Freddie Mercury

After two decidedly below-par albums in 1980's The Game and 1982's Hot Space, Queen hit back, hard. Recording in the USA for the first time, the revisited their rock roots but managed to merge it with contemporary radio-friedly "pop"/dance sounds. It was 1984, so the airwaves and recording studios were awash with synthesisers and programmed synth drums. Why, even The Rolling Stones were at it. Where Queen dismally failed on Hot Space, they got it just right on this impressive album.

Music media reaction was much more positive than it had been for Hot Space and Queen's renaissance, that would end with their being "national treasures", began right here. For many fans, this was their first experience of Queen. Their fandom dates back to here, really. After all, it had been nine years since Bohemian Rhapsody. People who were ten then were now nineteen.
           
After some distinctly ropey songs, Roger Taylor came up with one of his finest compositions for Queen - the synth riff and synchronised handclap dominated perfect pop single, Radio Ga Ga, which melodically railed against the old enemy - the radio. Elvis Costello and The Clash had done so in the new wave years too. 

Tear It Up was a Brian May-inspired slab of convincing hard rock, with May himself on vocals, while It's A Hard Life was a classic Mercury rock ballad with an addictive hook, as always. 

Mercury returned to his beloved rockabilly for the upbeat, toe-tapping Man On The Prowl and Machines (Or Back To Humans), which was a successful attempt at experimental sounds mixed with some genuine funk. They finally got it right on this strangely appealing effort. Some great Brian May guitar at the end of it.

I Want To Break Free was one of bassist John Deacon's best ever Queen songs. Assisted by a now iconic video featuring the band members in full drag and doing the hoovering and ironing, it is perfect in every way. Another excellent guitar solo and an impressive Mercury vocal. 

The melodic, harmonious rock of Mercury's Keep Passing The Open Windows is a forgotten but underrated track. Listening to it now I hear things in it I had completely forgotten about. It is not bad at all.



Now, thank the Lord above - Queen in their purest rock form, my favourite persona of the band, are back, and how! A powerful Brian May riff introduces the tour de force of rock that is Hammer To Fall. Mercury's vocal is peerless and a year later the band would storm Live Aid with this. Queen at their very best, in my view. I can never get enough of the song.

Finally, the album ends with Mercury and May's beautifully sad ballad concerning the contemporary news of poverty and starvation in Africa, Is This The World We Created, sung as an encore in their Live Aid set.

A more than convincing album after around seven years of patchy material. Queen phase two now truly begins.

  

** The b side to Radio Ga Ga was I Go Crazy, a solid, riffy rocker that surely would have fitted in fine on to the album. It rocks breathlessly from beginning to end. Mercury is on great form vocally. The sound on it is a bit tinny, however.


A Kind Of Magic (1986)


One Vision/A Kind Of Magic/One Year Of Love/Pain Is Close To Pleasure/Friends Will Be Friends/Who Wants To Live Forever/Gimme The Prize/Don't Lose Your Head/Princes Of The Universe  

"The album's confused origins made for a somewhat uneven listening experience" - Mark Blake

After Queen's renaissance with 1984's The Works and the triumphant show-stopping Live Aid performance, they were hip again and seemingly could do no wrong. Maybe they got a bit lazy, because this is a typically mid-eighties, patchy album. There is some classic material on this album, don't get me wrong, but there is some questionable stuff too. The sound quality throughout is outstanding on the latest remastering, however. It was originally conceived as a soundtrack album for the 1986 film Highlander, six its songs coming from that concept. As Queen biographer Mark Blake has suggested, it leads to a lack of cohesion in the final album.
             
Let's be positive and talk about the good ones. One Vision is simply one of my favourite riffy Queen rockers of all time. When Brian May launches into it - wow. 

The stadium-friendly groove of A Kind Of Magic is pretty impossible to dislike, as is the anthemic, grandiose and powerful Friends Will Be Friends. The latter is the track that harks back to Queen's late seventies material more than any on the album. 

The plaintive Who Wants To Live Forever is heartbreakingly moving, of course, and would prove to be even more so five years later.

Now on to the less wonderful material. John Deacon's One Year Of Love is not a funk-rock outing, but an eighties-era Elton John-style ballad, redeemed by Mercury's vocal and a deep, resonating bass beat. It also has a late-night, easy-listening saxophone solo. Alright in that type of song, but is this Queen? Surely not! Look, it is pleasant enough, but you have to say Queen had become very middle-of-the-road with material like this. 

Pain Is Close To Pleasure is a slice of AOR eighties slick disco, that sounds like something Diana Ross may have put out around this time. How fans who had been into Queen since the start, like myself, could tolerate tosh like this is difficult to understand. The excellent sound quality detracts from what is a pretty awful track.



Gimme The Prize (Kurgan's Theme), one of several tracks from the soundtrack of the afore-mentioned film Highlander, gets things back on track with an excellent, muscular, thumping rocker full of chunky guitar, a classic Brian May solo, samples from the film and a powerful Mercury vocal.

Don't Lose Your Head is an unremarkable synth-rock number from Roger Taylor. Mercury's vocals are typically strong, but the song is similar to the worst ones on Hot Space. Again, what Queen fans see in this is beyond me. 

Princes Of The Universe is a bit clich├ęd lyrically, and musically, with its big clunky heavy riffs, but its ok. It has a quick snatch of Brighton Rock-style guitar at one point, though.

This is not a Queen album I revisit too often. I have to say, though, that listening to it now I have quite enjoyed it, but it certainly is no classic.


 

The Miracle (1989)


Party/Khashoggi's Ship/The Miracle/I Want It All/The Invisible Man/Breakthru/Rain Must Fall/Scandal/My Baby Does Me/Was It All Worth It  

"'The Miracle' is a showcase for Freddie Mercury" - Rolling Stone             

This was Queen's first album for three years and, although it stands as an example of the band's mid-late eighties material and has the faults that era inevitably brought with it, I actually quite like it (and I am firmly a seventies Queen man).
                 
Roger Taylor blatantly steals the drum intro from Smokey Robinson & The Miracles Going To A Go-Go for the lively, rocking Party. The track is vibrant and fun, full of great guitar, despite some of the synth-y backing at times. It segues straight into Khashoggi's Ship with a supremely heavy riff. This is an underrated Queen rocker. This is Queen rocking as they always should do.

Now begins a run of four great hit singles in a row, the heart of this album - the melodic, Mercury vocal-dominated, inventive and grandiose The Miracle that also features some typical Brian May guitar; the heavy stadium singalong anthem of I Want It AllThe Invisible Man which is a stonking slab of Queen rock, with all four members name-checked. Despite its dance-ish rhythm it is infectious and rocks seriously at times; Breakthru is a breathless romp when it eventually kicks in. It is another piece of dance/rock fusion and it works superbly. I love all these tracks.

The quality fades somewhat now, however. Rain Must Fall is a lightweight, limp Deacon/Mercury collaboration. All very pleasant, but pretty unmemorable, really. Nice guitar solo in the middle though. Despite the programmed rhythms on a lot of this album's material, they still manage to fit in some pounding drums and killer Brian May guitar throughout, which is good. 

Scandal has a huge synth riff and an infectious vocal and feel, which again integrates some searing guitar in places. 

My Baby Does Me has a superb, muscular bass line and a great funk feel and quality vocal from Mercury. I love the ambience on this one. 

Was It All Worth It is a powerful, riffy and heavy look back at the band's beginnings. It is an underrated , marvellously inventive track that samples a classical piece in its riff, but I can't think which one it is (something Russian).

Despite my misgivings of some of Queen's Hot Space material, I feel this album has quite a good, appealing mix. Accepting that Queen had changed somewhat in the eighties, I have to say that as eighties albums go, it isn't a bad one. It is my favourite of their albums from that period.

**
There were several non-album tracks around in this period. The b side to I Want It All was a mid-pace, chugging, heavy-ish rocker in Hang On In ThereBreakthru had the melodic jazzy Mercury fun of Stealin' as its b side. The Invisible Man gave us the dance/rock of Hijack My Heart which was vaguely in the Another One Bites The Dust mode.

Innuendo (1991)


Innuendo/I'm Going Slightly Mad/Headlong/I Can't Live With You/Don't Try So Hard/Ride The Wild Wind/All God's People/These Are The Days Of Our Lives/Delilah/The Hitman/Bijou/The Show Must Go On  

"I still love you" - Freddie Mercury        

Queen's last album released while the great Freddie Mercury walked the earth, was a solid affair, with  many echoes of their heavy-ish rock albums of the mid-seventies.
      
Innuendo is a lengthy, inventive, almost "prog-rock" in places number, with some excellent heavy bits plus a flamenco guitar part played by Yes's Steve Howe. There are also some bombastic, operatic parts. It is a song that changes mood and vibe many times throughout its nearly seven minutes. It is a superb piece of work, one of the band's last true classics. 

I'm Going Slightly Mad is an intoxicating, atmospheric Mercury song. It is a camp-ish, rather amusing typical Mercury ditty. Given the circumstances of the time, though, it always sounds very poignant to me. It has some excellent Brian May guitar in it, too. 

Headlong is, as its title suggests, a breathless number. It is one May had written for himself but, upon hearing Mercury sing it, decided it was better as a Queen song.  It is one of their finest later-era rockers. 

The same applies to May's I Can't Live With You, another catchy, riffy rocker. It appears in a more guitar-dominated format on the Queen Rocks compilation.

Don't Try So Hard is a Mercury piano and vocal ballad, plaintive and melodic. Ride The Wild Wind is one of Roger Taylor's better compositions - an upbeat, rhythmic number with some great guitar underpinning it. 

All God's People is a laid-back and melodic Mercury number that is ok but doesn't stick in the mind too much. Unlike the evocative, beautiful Mercury swansong, These Are The Days Of Our Lives. The video was heartbreaking. Even now I get sad listening to it. "I still love you" whispers Freddie at the end. Likewise.

A lot of Queen fans pretty much disown Delilah, a quirky song Freddie wrote about one of his cats. As a cat-lover myself, I have always related to it. Fans will be delighted to hear Hitman next, though, with is powerful chunky riffs. There is a copper-bottomed May guitar solo on it too. 

Bijou begins with some excellent guitar then Mercury sings a floaty verse before it ends with more sumptuous guitar. It is really a track that is all about Brian May's guitar parts.

The Show Must Go On is a bombastic stadium-pleaser to end the album. It has actually never been one of my favourites, although I can understand its appeal. Overall, this album has a bit of a feel of the posthumous Made In Heaven about it. Apparently a lot of it was recorded in different bits and then put together, largely due to Mercury's ever-declining health. as good as it is in places, you can sort of tell. As a fulfilled album, I prefer The Miracle.


 

** The b side of I'm Going Slightly Mad was the sleepy, bluesy groove of Lost Opportunity. It was probably the bluesiest track Queen had done since 1974's See What A Fool I've Been.

Bohemian Rhapsody: The Soundtrack (2018)


The thing with groups like Queen is that their legacy is so damn good, there will always be multifarious ways of recycling it and long-time fans, like myself and many others, will still enjoy bits of it. However, this exercise seems pretty superfluous to me, musically. Obviously it functions as a movie sountrack, but as regards the musical content, it is a bit here and there, for me. I have all the tracks, and all the live ones apart from the Live Aid ones, so it is those I am interested in, and in the studio tracks which have received some re-tweaking.

So I won’t particularly go through the album track by track, but pick out those tracks which are of interest to me.

 

At the beginning, it is nice to hear the Twentieth Century Fox Theme with a bit of added Queen guitar. The majestic Somebody To Love, though, seems to be the same to me. The studio tracks are the Bob Ludwig 2011 remasters, which all sound superb, anyway. They are the definitive ones, no need for any further messing around with.

Now, Doing All Right is a song from Queen that I have always liked and I was interested to hear the new remix of it. It is great to hear Tim Staffell “rejoin” on vocals and the new mix has even more of a trippy, dreamy folk-rock feel but thankfully it has kept the heavy guitar and drum part from the middle in it, which sounds sumptuously powerful. I am a “heavy” Queen fan as opposed to a “whimsical” one, as my reviews of all the individual albums state ad nauseam.

The Keep Yourself Alive live recording I already have, but it still good to hear it in isolation. The sound quality and muscularity is excellent. Great bass on it, and drums too. Killer Queen as presented here, has a few additional Brian May guitar bits stapled on rather pointlessly, in my opinion (maybe, although listening to it again, I'm not sure there are any changes) Anyway, I don’t subscribe to the view that May’s tinkering is some insult to Mercury’s memory, however, any more than the remixing of Doing All Right is. On this occasion, I simply don’t think there was any particular need for it.

It is good to have a thumping rocking live version of the lyrically-preposterous Fat Bottomed Girls, as the studio version has always come up short, for me, due to its odd verse/chorus sound imbalances.

We Will Rock You (Movie Mix) is a mix of studio and live versions of the song, which, personally, I can’t really see the point of. Either have it as a studio version or a live one.

Now, the Live Aid material. Because We Will Rock You and Crazy Little Thing Called Love are included in other versions they are not included, which is a shame, as I would have liked the whole performance. It is great to hear the crowd’s cheer as they launch into Radio Ga Ga. Such memories of watching it on the day and my pleasure at seeing my old seventies favourites giving it some. Until that point I had been a bit underwhelmed. After sitting through Nik Kershaw, Paul Young and Howard Jones can you blame me? That Hammer To Fall riff changed all that. What is the quote? Oh yes - “sheer bloody poetry”. Freddie strutting around during this stole the show.

The remixed version of  Don't Stop Me Now was included previously on the remaster of Jazz. It is beautifully heavy. Love it.

All in all, I am not quite sure of the point of this, other than its purpose as a soundtrack. “Greatest Hits” type customers will want the actual greatest hits. I guess this is just of interest to completists, to be honest. I have to say that the sound quality throughout the whole album is absolutely top notch.
              

No comments:

Post a comment